Had S. J. Perelman not gone to Los Angeles to write for the movies — including the Marx brothers’ Horse Feathers — we might never have known his reaction to LA’s larger-than-life animals and shoes, etc., housing restaurants that served food he found hilariously weird. In a 1934 series of absurdist essays called “Strictly From Hunger” he portrays his introduction to the “Plushnick Studio” and his efforts to obtain a meal along Hollywood Boulevard.
In a Pig ‘n Whistle café he orders an avocado salad, which the server covers with walnuts and chocolate sauce. He decides to order something else. She suggests the special nutburger. “‘Hamburger with chopped nuts,’ she offered helpfully. ‘Double ball of vanilla on the side.’ ‘What would a man drink with that’ I muttered averting my eyes. ‘Well, how’s about a Mammoth Malted Milk?’” He faints.
Next he goes to “a pink-and-blue shack whose neon lights told me that it was Burp Hollow, Home of the Realistic Ten Cent Hot Dog. My head began to swim again and I hurried on.”
After passing up Bamboo Isle (“Strictly Kosher Turkey Sandwiches, Fifteen Cents”), he heads to what was probably Mother Goose. “Finally, in an eatery built in the shape of an old boot I was able to procure a satisfying meal of barbecued pork fritters and orangeade for seventy-five cents. Charming platinum-haired hostesses in red pajamas and peaked caps added a note of color to the scene, and a gypsy orchestra played Victor Herbert on musical saws.”
In a 1936 photo series called “Chamber of American Horrors” for which he wrote captions he describes Mother Goose as a place where “Inside, kiddies from six to sixty, most of whom are indistinguishable from each other, gnaw sizzling steaks and discuss their movie favorites.” Other eating places included in the Chamber were the Toed Inn (“tasty combinations of avocado and bacon, pimento and peanut butter”), the Laughing Pig Barbecue Pit (“Etched in red and blue neon lights against the velvety southern California night, it can be seen and avoided for miles.”), and the Pup (“The most ravenous appetite fades before this elaborate cheese dream.”).
© Jan Whitaker, 2009